If you ever want to experience what it would be like if there was a run on goods because of impending disaster, come to LA and go shopping at Costco or IKEA on weekend. I was with my roommates at IKEA this past weekend and a woman riding in one of those motorized chairs drove into the back of my right foot in an effort to get into a cashier's line. I hobbled around for a day with what felt like a contusion on my Achilles tendon.
Why can't DirecTV put another set of satellites in the North? I moved to an apartment on the north side of the building, and now I'm relegated to standard def because our complex signed a deal with Clear Bay Communications, and they're too cheap to rewire the building for high definition for DirecTV. My only choice is standard def DirecTV. In my previous apartment I could just get a view of the southwest sky from the balcony, on which I mounted a high-def DirecTV satellite. Now I can't see the southwest sky, but I can sure see the clouds...no, wait, those aren't clouds, those are the huge pixels of my crappy television image through standard def.
DirecTV has a great product if you can get it, but the "if you can get it" part of that is more of a catch than it should be.
I was unpacking more boxes this weekend, and I found my passport and an iPod nano that I thought I lost two years ago. I should unpack more often.
James Surowiecki on the writer's strike. Both sides believe strongly in their positions. The studios aren't making much off the web yet (nowhere near what they make in syndication or DVD sales), so they don't want to strike any long-term deals now. The writers did not get their fair share on DVDs from their last agreement, and they don't want to get burned again if the internet takes off as quickly as DVDs did.
Given all this, the two sides should strike a short-term rev share % agreement and go back to the negotiating table after it expires. The money online really isn't significant yet relative to DVD and syndication, and a more just % deal will buy some time for the online market to mature.
But the smarter long-term view for writers and directors and producers and actors, in my opinion, is to look to the Internet as a way to bypass the network and studio system altogether and get more fair value for their work. It won't happen right away, as the theatrical and DVD markets are still quite lucrative marketing and distribution systems while the Internet is still in its infancy in this space. But it may happen sooner than people realize.
There's an entire new generation coming up that's used to watching programming on a computer, or getting content from the computer to their TV. Broadband penetration and web speeds will continue to increase to the point where getting high-def content through the Internet will be just as fast as getting it from a satellite or cable. At that point, for many creative types the equation will shift so that it's more efficient for them to go direct to consumer rather than through the studio system. It won't be worthwhile for them to cede so much of the profit to a middleman who probably can't market their product efficiently anyhow.
Blockbuster mass-market movies may still benefit from launching on thousands of screens opening weekend, but most other programming will benefit more from efficient Internet-driven targeting. Maybe no such mechanism exists today online, but it's not difficult to imagine a company like Amazon is for books arising on the web to help people find the film and television programming they'll love.
The last foothold for studios in this distant future may be the theatrical distribution space. It's not easy to replicate a network of thousands of movie theaters nationwide. That's just not a lucrative business. But even as much as I love the look of film, the advent of digital technology will lower the cost of distribution to the point where building a network of theaters that only downloads massive digital files of movies will be feasible, avoiding the massive cost of generating all those prints. Cameras like the Red One will enable indie filmmakers to shoot films that can be projected on a massive theater screen and look fantastic at a much lower cost than shooting 35mm film. These files can be edited on a desktop workstation, and the digital output can be distributed to theaters with digital projectors.
The other things artists have traditionally depended on studios for is financing. But even there, times have changed. I took a class at UCLA last year called Indie Film Financing, and every week a different type of financier came in to talk about some film project they'd funded. It's not just studios anymore. We heard from old-fashioned banks, private equity, ultra-wealthy individuals, and on and on.
We will get back to a world where the scarcity is not in theater screens or financing but something much harder to solve, and that's true creative talent.
Speaking of the future of content distribution, the stats from the Radiohead experiment in direct distribution of their album "In Rainbows" are fascinating. The average price paid among people who paid for the download was $6.00. Given that over 60% of customers chose not to pay at all for the download, the average price paid worldwide was $2.26 per album.
Sounds low? It's still more than Radiohead would have made per album if they'd gone through a studio. I think they could have easily gotten sales if they'd chosen to sell their album at, say $4.00 a pop, instead of letting consumers name their own price. But this turned out to be a much more interesting, and I think, successful experiment.
Last Saturday I went downtown and caught the Takashi Murakami exhibit downtown at the Geffen Contemporary at the MOCA. I love his massive prints and his appropriation of pop and high culture. His works seem to distill so many elements of Japanese culture.
I had hoped to buy a print there, but the museum only carried limited editions of 300 of a few of his prints, and they had all sold out already. I had to settle for a t-shirt.
Murakami collaborated with Marc Jacobs, artistic director for Louis Vuitton, on a series of handbags. On display at the museum was a luggage chest with about a dozen or so compartments inside, each holding a Louis Vuitton handbag. Out of curiosity, one of my friends asked how much the chest was. It turns out you can take that chest and all the handbags inside it home for the meager sum of $500,000.
Not for sale were these two NSFW scultpures.
Also playing at the exhibit was Murakami's music video for Kanye West's song "Good Morning" off of Graduation. I guess it hasn't released to the world yet as the only copy I can find online is at YouTube, some bootleg from the Murakami exhibit. Not the best way to enjoy it.